PI Original Ashlee Rezin Thursday April 25th, 2013, 10:34am

Hundreds Strike For Higher Wages In Chicago's Fast Food And Retail Industries (VIDEO)

It’s impossible to survive on $8.75 per hour, says Latasha Anderson, 31, an employee of Macy’s on Michigan Ave. in downtown Chicago. She was one of three retail associates from her store to participate yesterday in a citywide fast food and retail workers’ strike that prompted hundreds of employees to walk off the job.

It’s impossible to survive on $8.75 per hour, says Latasha Anderson, 31, an employee of Macy’s on Chicago's Michigan Ave. and who has worked at the store for about one year.

Anderson, a single mother and lifelong resident of the city's South Side Englewood neighborhood, said she often has to choose between paying her gas bill and her electricity bill. She receives assistance from Medicaid and food stamps, but said she struggles every day to provide for her three children, ages 14, eight and two.

She was one of three retail associates from her store to participate yesterday in a citywide fast food and retail workers’ strike.

“I’m barely making enough to pay for the gas to get to and from work,” she said, joined by hundreds for a protest outside her employer’s store. “We’re not getting paid enough to survive.”

Carrying a sign and chanting pro-union messages, Anderson said if workers “don’t stand up and do something, nothing’s going to happen.”

Beginning at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, hundreds of workers from Dunkin Donuts, Subway, Victoria’s Secret, Niketown, Macy’s, Portillo’s, Whole Foods, Sears, and McDonald’s walked off the job and participated in a strike to demand higher wages and the right to form a union free from retaliation.

The citywide strikes were organized by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC), which launched the Fight For 15 campaign to raise retail and fast food wages to $15 per hour. Protesters rallied in front of stores identified as low-wage employers and marched down the Magnificent Mile and through the Loop well past 6 p.m.

“The minimum wage is not a wage that anybody can survive on, it’s a wage that guarantees poverty levels,” said Lorraine Chavez, an organizer with WOCC, who noted strikers should not face negative retaliation because they complied with federal labor laws that protect workers’ rights to organize.

Inspired by a similar strike by fast food employees in New York earlier this month and a nationwide Black Friday strike by Walmart workers last fall, WOCC’s 4 p.m. march saw an estimated 1,000 protesters rallying through downtown Chicago.

Earlier in the day, one downtown Chicago Subway location, 37 South LaSalle St., was forced to close when everyone but the manager walked out. A Sally's Beauty Supply and a Land's End couldn’t open when no non-managerial employees reported to work.

“These workers are not teens working at a fast food restaurant for a couple of months, these are adults supporting families and putting themselves through college,” Chavez said. “Given the huge profits by retail and fast food mega-employers, the employees deserve a living wage that allows them to pay for the basic necessities of life.

Here’s more from the protest:

Since the recession, more than half of the jobs created during the nation’s economic recovery have been low-wage positions, paying $13.83 an hour or less. According to CNN, the fastest growing low-wage positions have been retail associates, food prep workers, laborers and freight workers, restaurant servers, personal and home care aides, office clerks and customer service representatives.

At $8.25 per hour, Illinois has the fourth-highest minimum wage in the nation. First introduced in 2011, a bill that would raise the minimum wage and "support working families", SB 1565, sponsored by State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Maywood), died in committee last year.

Saying “nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty” in his February State of the State address, Gov. Pat Quinn affirmed his support for the legislation and called for an increase to $10 per hour over the next four years. But no legislation has been filed to do so as of yet.

According to a December report by Stand Up! Chicago, about 57 percent of all households in the Windy City depend solely on minimum wage jobs. Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would spur approximately $179 million in extra economic activity for the city, the report reads.

Meanwhile, with a rent of $625 per month and college debt reaching more than $40,000, Tanesha Manuel, 26, said she does not make enough to get by while working at Niketown on Michigan Ave.

She and two of her coworkers walked out Wednesday morning to strike for higher wages and better working conditions. In addition to not making a living wage, Manuel said she is often asked to perform duties outside of her job description.

“We’re uniting and taking a stand today,” she said.

A lifelong resident of Englewood, Manuel has worked at Niketown for five months and makes $10 per hour. She lives without health or life insurance.

“The hard work I do on a daily basis is not being rewarded properly or compensated for what it’s truly worth,” she said.

Here’s more from Manuel:

According to Tom Balanoff, president of SEIU* Local 1, WOCC is “doing the right thing by putting workers in motion” to form a retail and fast food union.

“This strike is an important statement that workers here in Chicago are tired of a low-wage economy,” he said. “People go to work for these big, multimillion-dollar corporations, and they should be rewarded so they can take care of their families.”

Balanoff and several SEIU members marched in solidarity with the striking fast food and retail workers.

“I think this movement is only going to grow,” he said.

The union released the following statement after yesterday's march began:

SEIU Local 1 fully supports the workers striking today. If you work hard at a full time job, you should be able to support yourself and your family without having to rely on public assistance. Multimillion dollar corporations are profiting off employees who work hard but can't pay their bills. This isn't the way to move our city, or our country, forward.

Following the demonstrations in downtown Chicago, approximately 50 protesters traveled to the North Side neighborhood of Wrigleyville for an 8 p.m. protest in front of Whole Foods.

Matthew Camp, 32, a full-time customer service team member at Whole Foods for more than one year, called earning $15 per hour a “basic right.”

Camp, who makes $11.25 per hour, was scheduled to work at 4 p.m. at the Wrigleyville location, but participated in the strike instead.

In addition to fighting for higher wages, Camp said Whole Foods protesters were organizing against a “rigid and archaic” attendance policy that doesn’t allow for sick days.

“We’re standing together so we can get a better life, and a fair shake for a day’s labor.”

 Here’s more from Camp:

* The SEIU Ilinois Council sponsors this website.

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